Arby’s corporate employees unite to remember
By Kalea Hall
Stephanie Sferra was more than the graphic designer at the Youngstown Arby’s corporate offices from 1974 to 1979.
She was the egg-salad maker.
In the four years she spent there, she worked to build the company’s public-relations department, set the foundation for her career in marketing and made egg salad for the luncheons she had with her colleagues — a memory she reflects on fondly.
“It was fantastic working there, and the reason why is it was because of the people,” Sferra said. “There has never been a job that ever compared to that feeling.”
Sferra is excited to reconnect with her colleagues at the Arby’s corporate-office reunion July 24. The Mahoning Valley Historical Society set up the event to bring together as many as possible of the approximately 150 employees who worked at the fast-food restaurant chain Arby’s Inc. corporate offices that were located in Youngstown from 1964 to 1979.
The reunion includes a free 7 p.m. panel discussion open to the public with Leroy Raffel, businessman and one of the brothers who founded the Arby’s chain; Thomas Welsh, historian and author of “Classic Restaurants of Youngstown”; and Dr. Donna DeBlasio, professor of history at Youngstown State University.
“The people who have heard about it just cannot wait to see Leroy because it was such a tight-knit group,” said Cheryl Lewis, campaign director for MVHS. “I’m just excited to preserve that memory.”
The first Arby’s location opened July 24, 1964, on U.S. Route 224 in Boardman, which is now a Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop. Brothers Leroy and Forrest Raffel started the restaurant chain that featured roast-beef sandwiches.
The two first decided to call the restaurant “Big Tex,” but realized another restaurant in Akron had that name so they went with Arby’s to stand for Raffel brothers or R.B.
By 1967, there were 150 Arby’s locations. The chain since has grown to nearly 3,400 restaurants worldwide.
New Arby’s corporate offices were opened on Belmont Avenue in 1977, and that year, Arby’s sales hit $300 million with the locations on Belmont and Route 224 among the top 10 in sales nationwide. By 1980, the corporate offices moved to Atlanta.
“So many people living here have no idea that Arby’s started in Youngstown,” said Rita Wilson, a former employee of the Arby’s corporate office from 1970 to 1979.
Wilson worked as an administrative assistant and worked up to manager of operations of administration. She considered her workplace friends to be like family.
“We got to do fun things like test products,” she said. “We were packing on the pounds while we were enjoying life.”
They also were making history, Sferra said. She was hired part time at 21 and then went on to a full-time position to produce a magazine that grew into five separate publications for the company.
It was her first professional job, and it paved the way for her in the marketing world. She now is the executive director for the Trumbull County Tourism Board.
“I think that one of my colleagues summed it up best this week by saying it was the type of job that you would aspire to have at the end of my career, and I had it at the beginning,” Sferra said. “Every job I went to I compared to Arby’s.”
The public is invited to the panel discussion July 24 at the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center, 325 West Federal St., in downtown Youngstown.
In honor of Arby’s 50th anniversary celebration, and in partnership with the Arby’s Foundation, local Arby’s restaurants will host a “Buy One Give One” offer July 21-25, during which time local Arby’s restaurants will donate a meal to Second Harvest Food Bank of Mahoning Valley for every meal that’s purchased throughout the week.